Author Archive | hortoris

Getting Starter Plants For New Gardeners

New gardeners are keen to get going and it may be painful to wait for several months to grow your own from seed or cuttings. Fortunately there are several ways to shortcut the process by buying starter plants.

  1. Plug plants are available from mail order seed merchants and local garden centers. These plugs are plants grown for gardeners to ‘grow on’ (ie allow to develop in a bigger pot for a while) or to harden off and plant out. Check the instructions that generally come with the plugs.
  2. Jumbo plugs are what they say in the name. More compost and bigger plants at a bigger price but I buy these for special perennials or quicker colour displays.
  3. Early in the spring you can find small individual seeded pots sown densely then germinated so the seedlings can be pricking out and grown on.
  4. Bigger seeds are often available in a nest of 4,6 or more black plastic pots. I buy special tomato varieties and some vegetables this way.
  5. Local market stalls and nurseries will sell plants in individual pots. This can give you a quick start but take care. Plants should look right ( not be drawn and thin) and pots should be an appropriate size  for the plant with no roots growing out of the holes in the base or weeds on the surface.

Sweet pea seedlings from a local grower


Good Soil for New Gardeners

To some soil is a brown mess to make mud pies from for others it is a crusty, cracked, rock hard piece of the garden that takes effort to cultivate into good soil. Mixing in more sand will help both these conditions. Soil that is too sandy will drain through very quickly.

  1. Good soil contains clay, sand and silt in varying proportions. A preponderance of clay is called a heavy soil and can lead to the crust or a ‘pan’ referred to above.
  2. Air and water are the other crucial components of soil. They give and maintain life for all plants and other life forms.
  3. Dissolved nutrients and decomposing plant matter (humus) provides food for the numerous creatures that make their home in the soil.
  4. Millions of microbes (fungus & bacteria) are present in good soil and their beneficial effect is just beginning to be fully recognised.
  5. Worms help aerate the soil and maintain a balance structure. Other creatures help compost dying plant matter.



Five Windowsill Plants for New Gardeners

In this series of ‘fives for New Gardeners’ I have limited the number of photographs I have included but I am proud that I grew this African Violet from a leaf rooted in water. Gardening includes a bit of pride so I am happy enough for now.

  1. Orchids were very expensive some years ago but new breeding techniques have allowed prices to drop and varieties on offer to increase. Orchids should re-flower on an extension of the old stem if you are patient and they are happy with the conditions (East or North facing windowsill and not too much water)
  2. Cyclamen have been bred to last well on a windowsill and the various sizes and colours are now worth seeking out. Look for the less garden hardy Persian varieties for the exotic look.
  3. Not always thought of as a windowsill plant I like the geranium or Pelargonium which my mother used to grow in great number on a window ledge.
  4. I have just ordered some gloxinia corms to try growing by my windows this year. I have do OK in the past but want to do better this year.
  5. Back to my current favourite the African Violet. If you have a safe watering regime the plants will reflower several time during the next 12 months and are available in a  range of colour shades. I also like the furry texture to the leaves.

Beware collecting windowsill plants can become addictive. I have a dozen plants on the windowsill  in the study come spare bedroom right now! What will I do when new seedlings need the same space?


Five Summer Flowering Bulbs for New Gardeners

Bulbs are commonly understood as plant storage devices and here the term bulb is used to cover various forms of dormant plants.

  1. Underground plant storage is provided by nature in various forms examples of which include corms for crocus, bulbs for daffoilils, tubers for Dahlia or rhizomes for Lily of the valley.
  2. A top performer in summer is often one of the many varieties of Lily. The Asiatic lily can grow in tubs on the patio to 12″ high. Larger double flowered lilys can be over 3′ tall.
  3. Dahlia tubers are easy to grow and provide masses of flower from late summer until the first frost. Decorative, pompom, single and cactus Dahlia varieties refer to the petals and flower shape.
  4. Begonias are brash flowering corms that are progressively being used as border plants. They need lifting to regrow the following year.
  5. Crocosmia is a hardy corm that produces a spray containing many red or orange flowers along its stem.

Asiatic Lily

As a further thought, where would Barry Humphries have been without his famous corm The Gladioli?


Five Terms for New Gardeners

There is a whole new language to be embraced when you first start to garden. We have just selected 5 gardening terms that you may come across.

  1. Annual is a plant that grows and dies in the same year. (not from neglect but because it is programmed by nature to behave like that). Many weeds and quick growing flowers are annuals. Biannuals grow one year and flower the next.
  2. Hardy annuals spend their life outdoors. Half-hardy annuals need some spring and early summer protection. Most popular bedding plants are half-hardy annuals.
  3. Perennials are plants that are designed to last several years and keep performing for some time. To keep clumps of perennials healthy it is worth digging them up when they get over crowded, discarding the old woody middle and replanting healthy remainder.
  4. Herbaceous perennials are plants that die down at the end of the flowering period and new top growth appears the following season. This is unlike hardy  perennials such as shrubs and trees which tend to be woody.
  5. Bedding plants are those that are used in the border or beds to give a spring and summer display after which they are normally lifted and composted.

A rose is a Perennial shrub


New Gardeners Should Try Runner Beans

One of the easiest and highest yielding vegetable crops to grow are runner beans. You may not need all these 5 tips to do well but here goes:

  1. I keep some bean seeds from last years crop but a new packet of seeds will germinate in May for planting out as soon as the danger of frost has gone. Alternatively buy plug plants for June delivery. Pests may eat seeds sown direct so I start each seed in a small pot.
  2. Give the young plant something to climb and twine up. A 6′ cane and some wide spaced netting will do.
  3. There should be no more problems before you get a crop but beans are heavy feeders and drinkers so a rich, moisture retentive soil will help and so will a good drink in dry weather.
  4. Flowers, red or white are insect pollinated so do not need to be sprayed with water (an old folks tale).
  5. Pick the bean pods when young and pliable. When they get a bigger bean in the pod they will stop producing new pods. Otherwise the plants will produce until October or so.



Ornamental Berries for New Gardeners

Some plants give double pleasure by producing berries after their flowers have already performed. Here is my top 5:

  1. Rose hips shown above come in various sizes and shapes. Ruga roses have large robust berries whilst this ‘Rambling Rector’ produces lots of hips after a grand flush of summer flowers.
  2. Holly berries are a seasonal favorite that on 12th night we take out of the house. Holly bushes are either male or female and it is the latter that produce the berries.
  3. Small black and purple berries are less ornamental but do a good job feeding the birds. Elderberry and Berberis are two larger shrubs that do well in my garden.
  4. Whilst thinking about birds the cottoneaster family can produce prolific feast of berries that get gobbled up in autumn.
  5. I find that the pyracantha berries are not eaten by the birds until winter is in full spate. They are available in red orange and yellow berries and are good structural shrubs an ornamentals.

Support New Plants and New Gardeners

New gardeners can improve the look and success rate of their new plants if they give them appropriate support. Stakes for trees, bamboo canes, metal rods or bought systems are all possible forms of support. Here are just 5 ideas.

  1. Bushy perennials grow well through circular frames or netting.
  2. Top heavy plants such as peonies and dahlia are suited to a Y-stake support or a grid of twine.
  3. Pea sticks are useful for supporting shorter front of border plants like penstemon and some annuals.
  4. Clump forming upright perennials like delphinium or Helianthus can be supported with twine or tubes of netting.
  5. Runner beans and climbing beans need good support from wide ‘pea’ netting and a wigwam or line of good canes to support the weight of pods and summer breezes.

See also Supporting Role


Plants For New Gardeners to Grow To Cover a Fence

There are several annual plants I would recommend to new gardeners who want to cover an unsightly mess but do not want permanent plants that could impede house maintenance.

  1. Sweet peas give colour and scent and cover rapidly. They tend to go-over later in summer.
  2. Climbing nasturtiums have bright coloured flowers and pungent leaves until the first frost.
  3. Morning glory and canary creeper are half-hardy  are harder to get going but can be very brash.
  4. There are many suitable perennials including various Vines and Ivys. Look around at other local gardens to see what does well before you decide on something that could become permanent.
  5. Most importantly for a good show you should provide something to climb up and cling too. Trellis, horizontal wires or netting most common.


Book Cover

If you need more inspiration check out with Alan Titchmarsh


Five Essentials for New Gardeners


  1. A first essential is enthusiasm and an interest in plants, flowers and growing things. You are reading this so you qualify on this first essential.
  2. Know that plants require air, water and a safe home – (soil, plant pot or bit of land).
  3. Seed or plant matter to start life then nourishment to continue living. Even without a gardener’s help bare soil will be colonised, mainly by unwanted weeds in my case.
  4. Size ins’t important you can start to garden on a windowsill or in a plant pot.
  5. I recommend some instant gratification, try acquiring a mature flowering plant or good vegetable seedlings to get you in the mood.

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